Monday, February 28, 2022

How a Walk Grew into a Book

 Nearly a decade ago, I shoved a notebook and handful of pens into my duffel and headed off to a Highlights Foundation workshop that focused on Writing Nonfiction for kids. The only thing I had to guide me was a well-worn map with the route highlighted in yellow and some notes jotted down from an email.  What I remember most from my time there was heading out for a walk with another writer – that would be you, Alisha.

photo by Alisha Gabriel
Alisha: That was my first time attending a Highlights workshop and it made a huge impact on my writing! I remember that walk, and stopping to photograph a mushroom along the side of the trail. As we talked, we realized we both had book ideas that involved fungi.

Sue: For different reasons, we ended up putting our fungi projects on hold. But that was okay because something else grew out of that fortuitous forest amble: a partnership.

Alisha: Yes. After the workshop, I was fortunate to join a newly formed critique group with you and a couple other nonfiction writers. We’ve been critiquing and encouraging one another for almost ten years!

Sue: Fast-forward to the pandemic lockdown of 2020, when Alisha emailed me. Remember that cool mushroom from Highlights? she asked. Let's work on a fungus book together.

Alisha: It took me awhile to reach out and ask. I wasn’t sure if you’d be interested in co-authoring a book about fungi, but due to our shared interest in the topic, I figured it was worth a shot. Plus, it was the middle of a pandemic and, other than work, I wasn’t getting out much.

Sue: Plus two heads are better than one. If I found some interesting fungus facts, I could share them with Alisha. What I really loved was when Alisha emailed me photos of fungi she found in her garden. It inspired me to look more closely at what was growing in my lawn and garden. We also got to play around with – I mean, test drive – a bunch of activities.

Alisha: And share really bad jokes. Hey Sue, why didn’t the Fungus come to the Pizza Party?

Sue: I don’t know. (shudders at the thought of fungal fruiting bodies on a pizza)

Alisha: Because there wasn’t Mushroom!

Check back next month for another post about our book-writing journey.  Funky Fungi, 30 Activities for Exploring Molds, Mushrooms, Lichens, and More is part of the Young Naturalists series. You can find out more about our book at the publisher’s website. It will hit bookstore shelves this June, but you can pre-order it at your favorite local bookstore, or online at B&N or Amazon.

Friday, February 25, 2022

Sing a Song of Walrus ...

Walrus Song 
by Janet Lawler; illus. by Timothy Basil Ering 
32 pages; ages 5-8
Candlewick Press, 2021

theme: ocean animals, arctic, nonfiction

 Where is Walrus? 

He’s on an ice flow, or diving into icy waters to hunt for food. This book shows the walrus life up close and personal. Readers learn about tusks and flippers, and the wonderful variety of sounds walruses make.

What I love about this book: I love the language. The fun, rhyming text is filled with action. There are verbs galore: flapping, flopping, walking, plopping. Walrus may lumber on the ice, but in the water below he twirls and whirls. I love the spreads filled with walrus songs and calls, hoots and squees, snorts, and more. And I really like the back matter: walrus facts that are perfect bite-sized bits for older readers to digest and share with their younger sibs – or the grandkids.

Beyond the Books:

Learn more about walruses in this National Geographic Kids video.

Have fun with walrus crafts over at Danielle’s Place. There’s a couple of walrus videos at the bottom of her page.

You, too, can speak like a walrus. Check out this recording of walrus sounds

What’s it like to be a walrus? Make up a story or a poem or song, or draw a picture about what you think a day in the life of a walrus would be like. Here’s one of my favorite songs telling all about The Walrus Life.

Today we're joining Perfect Picture Book Friday, an event where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Explore Outdoors ~ winter shadows


The dried stems, twisted leaves, and prickly seed heads of winter weeds are interesting in themselves. But somehow they become dainty works of art when the sun casts their shadows on the snow.

This week, look for shadows of grasses, flowering plants, dried stalks. If the snow melts, don't worry - you can find shadows on sidewalks and packed dirt. What do the shadows look like? The one above looks almost like socks hanging from a clothesline. The shadows below make me think of fireworks shooting into the sky and bursting open.

What will you discover?

Monday, February 21, 2022

Researching Informational Fiction: A Little Bit of Dinosaur ~ by Darcy Pattison

Great ideas for a picture book story need to be backed up by research. Even if it’s informational fiction, the information included needs to be accurate.

For my book, A Little Bit of Dinosaur, co-authored with my sister Elleen Hutcheson, we started by looking at where dinosaur fossils have been found in the United States. You can see if there were any dinosaurs in your area of the world by looking at this interactive map:

We found that in the United States, dinosaur fossils are often found in the Rocky Mountains, including Colorado. 

Next, we needed a river for this story to work. We looked at the areas where dinosaur fossils were found, looking for a long river that went through several states.

The Arkansas River has its headwaters in Colorado, then travels across Colorado, Kansas, through Oklahoma, to Arkansas, before emptying into the Mississippi River. This meant the two areas overlapped: the Arkansas River watershed and the area where dinosaur fossils had been found. It meant our story had plausibility. Did an exposed dinosaur bone shed calcium that found its way into the Arkansas River? We don’t know. But it’s possible that it could have happened.

For informational fiction, the plausibility or possibility meant we could tell the story.

After the story was written, though, the illustrator still had to do research. When he illustrated the Arkansas River on the map, it had to be accurate. When the cow’s milk was made into cheese, he investigated the stages of making cheese. The illustrator’s style includes humor such as a faucet in the cow’s stomach to release milk. But underlying the humor are facts. 

The story has 387 words. Each word was chosen for accuracy combined with an artistic ear for the music of the story. It has a 620 Lexile (3rd-4th grade reading level) and again each word was chosen thinking about the needs of the 3rd grade reader.

We hope the story reads smoothly and the reader is entertained (Shh!—while being educated). The research and carefully wording should be invisible, leaving a fun story for kids!

Thank you for joining us today, Darcy. In December, I reviewed Darcy’s book A.I.: How Patterns Helped Artificial Intelligence Defeat World Champion Lee Sedol. If you put her name into “Search this Blog” over on the right, you can find lots of other books by Darcy. You can visit Darcy’s website here.

Friday, February 18, 2022

You Might Be Part Dinosaur!

Last spring was a tough time for new book releases, what with libraries, schools, and book stores unable to host public events. So this spring I’ll be celebrating some book birthday anniversaries for a few books I didn’t get the chance to review last year.
And since today is the start of the Great Backyard Bird Count  I thought I'd start by looking at a book about something distantly related to birds: dinosaurs! I spent part of my young life exploring dinosaur country, so I really enjoyed this one. I love the idea that, like our feathery friends, we might have a bit of dino in us.

A Little Bit of Dinosaur 
by Elleen Hutcheson and Darcy Pattison; illus. by John Joven 
32 pages; ages 5-9
Mims House, 2021

theme: dinosaurs, nature, informational

 You have a little bit of Tyrannosaurus rex in your jawbone!

Sounds crazy, right? But Darcy and Elleen trace how a calcium atom could have dissolved from a dinosaur bone and been carried far away. And become part of a plant that was eaten by a cow that made the milk that …. eventually got into you. 

What I like about this book: It’s fun to read. And I like the way Darcy and Elleen show a probable path to explain how a bit of dinosaur could be in you. In addition to the tyrannosaurus in your jawbone, there might be a bit of a different dino in your toe. The real thing we see, though, is how everything is connected. Stuff in one place – whether calcium from a dino bone or water from a spring – travels to other places and gets incorporated into soil, plants, animals, and eventually people. And I like how, at the end, the authors contemplate where the calcium in our bones will end up ages from now.

This is the place where I’d normally ask Darcy a question – but guess what! She’s going to be here on the blog on Monday – so come back and say “hi.”

Beyond the Books:

Do an experiment to show how calcium dissolves from a bone. You’ll need some vinegar, a few chicken bones (bones from a rotisserie chicken are perfect), and a couple jars. Here’s how to do it

Learn more about dinosaurs with these three videos from the National Park Service.    

Want to look for dinosaurs? Check out this list of places where you can find fossils (including dinosaurs)

Find some dinosaurs in your neighborhood. Did you know that birds are the long-lost relatives of dinosaurs? This weekend (today through Monday) is the perfect time for dinosaur watching – and for sharing your observations with others by participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count

Darcy is a member of #STEAMTeam2022. You can find out more about her at her website.

Today we're joining Perfect Picture Book Friday, an event where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review copy from the publisher.

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Explore Outdoors ~ An appreciation of small things

 At first glance this looks like a winter weed poking up through the snow. But it's actually the dried bracht from the fruit of an American basswood(Tilia americana). The stem bearing the tiny marble-like fruits grows out of the bracht, a specialized leaf.

This small leaf-bit helicoptered on the wind and eventually landed in my road - where I stopped to marvel at the tiny details of leaf veins.

This week, take time to observe the small things you come across. Dried aster heads and seedpods, leaf skeletons, a jay's feather, cat tracks across the snowy lawn, frozen grasses beneath the roof's drip-line, stubborn oak or maple or beech leaves still clinging to their twigs.

What tiny marvels do you find?

Monday, February 14, 2022

Announcing the #KidsLoveNonfiction Campaign

Today, Archimedes Notebook is joining a bunch of other kid-lit blogs in announcing - and supporting -  the #KidsLoveNonfiction campaign. 

This morning, Mary Ann Cappiello, Professor of Language and Literacy at Lesley University, and Xenia Hadjioannou, Associate Professor of Language and Literacy Education at the Harrisburg campus of Penn State University, sent the letter below to The New York Times requesting that the paper add three children's nonfiction bestseller lists to parallel the existing picture book, middle grade, and young adult lists, which focus on fiction.

This change will align the children's lists with the adult bestseller lists, which separate nonfiction and fiction. It will also acknowledge the incredible vibrancy of children's nonfiction available today and support the substantial body of research showing that many children prefer nonfiction and still others enjoy fiction and nonfiction equally.

If you support this request, please follow the signature collection form link to add your name and affiliation to the more than 200 educators and librarians who have already endorsed the effort. Your information will be added to the letter but your email address will remain private.


Nonfiction books for young people are in a golden age of creativity, information-sharing, and reader-appeal. But the genre suffers from an image problem and an awareness problem. The New York Times can play a role in changing that by adding a set of Nonfiction Best Seller lists for young people: one for picture books, one for middle grade literature, and one for young adult literature.  

Today’s nonfiction authors and illustrators are depicting marginalized and minority communities throughout history and in our current moment. They are sharing scientific phenomena and cutting-edge discoveries. They are bearing witness to how art forms shift and transform, and illuminating historical documents and artifacts long ignored. Some of these book creators are themselves scientists or historians, journalists or jurists, athletes or artists, models of active learning and agency for young people passionate about specific topics and subject areas. Today’s nonfiction continues to push boundaries in form and function. These innovative titles engage, inform, and inspire readers from birth to high school.  

Babies delight in board books that offer them photographs of other babies’ faces. Toddlers and preschoolers fascinated by the world around them pore over books about insects, animals, and the seasons. Children, tweens, and teens are hungry for titles about real people that look like them and share their religion, cultural background, or geographical location, and they devour books about people living different lives at different times and in different places. Info-loving kids are captivated by fact books and field guides that fuel their passions. Young tinkerers, inventors, and creators seek out how-to books that guide them in making meals, building models, knitting garments, and more. Numerous studies have described such readers and their passionate interest in nonfiction (Jobe & Dayton-Sakari, 2002; Moss and Hendershot, 2002; Mohr, 2006). Young people are naturally curious about their world. When they are allowed to follow their passions and explore what interests them, it bolsters their overall wellbeing. And the more young people read, the more they grow as readers, writers, and critical thinkers (Allington & McGill-Franzen, 2021; Van Bergen et al., 2021).

Research provides clear evidence that many children prefer nonfiction for their independent reading, and many more select it to pursue information about their particular interests (Doiron, 2003; Repaskey et al., 2017; Robertson & Reese, 2017; Kotaman & Tekin, 2017). Creative and engaging nonfiction titles can also enhance and support science, social studies, and language arts curricula. And yet, all too often, children, parents, and teachers do not know about recently published nonfiction books. Bookstores generally have only a few shelves devoted to the genre. And classroom and school library book collections remain dominated by fiction. If families, caregivers, and educators were aware of the high-quality nonfiction that is published for children every year, the reading lives of children and their educational experiences could be significantly enriched.

How can The New York Times help resolve the gap between readers’ yearning for engaging nonfiction, on the one hand, and their lack of knowledge of its existence, on the other? By maintaining separate fiction and nonfiction best seller lists for young readers just as the Book Review does for adults.

The New York Times Best Sellers lists constitute a vital cultural touchstone, capturing the interests of readers and trends in the publishing world. Since their debut in October of 1931, these lists have evolved to reflect changing trends in publishing and to better inform the public about readers’ habits. We value the addition of the multi-format Children’s Best Seller list in July 2000 and subsequent lists organized by format in October 2004. Though the primary purpose of these lists is to inform, they undeniably play an important role in shaping what publishers publish and what children read.

Adding children’s nonfiction best-seller lists would:

·         Help family members, caregivers, and educators identify worthy nonfiction titles.

·         Provide a resource for bibliophiles—including book-loving children—of materials that satisfy their curiosity.

·         Influence publishers’ decision-making.

·         Inform the public about innovative ways to convey information and ideas through words and images.

·         Inspire schools and public libraries to showcase nonfiction, broadening its appeal and deepening respect for truth.

We, the undersigned, strongly believe that by adding a set of nonfiction best-seller lists for young people, The New York Times can help ensure that more children, tweens, and teens have access to books they love. Thank you for considering our request.

Dr. Mary Ann Cappiello 

Professor, Language and Literacy

Graduate School of Education, Lesley University

Cambridge, Massachusetts 

Former Chair, National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction Committee 


Dr. Xenia Hadjioannou

Associate Professor, Language and Literacy Education

Penn State University, Harrisburg Campus

Harrisburg, PA

Vice President of the Children’s Literature Assembly (CLA) of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). 





Allington, R. L., & McGill-Franzen, A. M. (2021). Reading volume and reading achievement: A review of recent research. Reading Research Quarterly, 56(S1), S231–S238.

Correia, M. (2011). Fiction vs. informational texts: Which will your kindergarteners choose? Young Children, 66(6), 100-104.

Doiron, R. (2003). Boy Books, Girl Books: Should We Re-organize our School Library Collections? Teacher Librarian, 14-16.

Kotaman H. & Tekin A.K. (2017). Informational and fictional books: young children's book preferences and teachers' perspectives. Early Child Development and Care, 187(3-4), 600-614, DOI: 10.1080/03004430.2016.1236092

Jobe, R., & Dayton-Sakari, M. (2002). Infokids: How to use nonfiction to turn reluctant readers into enthusiastic learners. Markham, Ontario, Canada: Pembroke.

Mohr, K. A. J. (2006). Children’s choices for recreational reading: A three-part investigation of selection preferences, rationales, and processes. Journal of Literacy Research, 38(1), 81–104.

Moss, B. &  Hendershot, J. (2002). Exploring sixth graders' selection of nonfiction trade books: when students are given the opportunity to select nonfiction books, motivation for reading improves. The Reading Teacher, vol. 56 (1), 6+.

Repaskey, L., Schumm, J. & Johnson, J. (2017). First and fourth grade boys’ and girls’ preferences for and perceptions about narrative and expository text. Reading Psychology, 38, 808-847.

Robertson, Sarah-Jane L. & Reese, Elaine. (Mar 2017). The very hungry caterpillar turned into a butterfly: Children's and parents' enjoyment of different book genres. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, 17(1), 3-25.

Van Bergen, E., Vasalampi, K., & Torppa, M. (2021). How are practice and performance related? Development of reading from age 5 to 15. Reading Research Quarterly, 56(3), 415–434.

If you support the request to add three children's nonfiction bestseller lists to parallel the existing lists, which focus on fiction, please add your name and affiliation to the signature collection form

Friday, February 11, 2022

A Pair of Browsable Books

Lo and behold, I have found a bunch of books published last year that were stuck in the back of my book basket. Here’s a couple that make good snow-day browsing for the 7-10-year-old crowd. (With remote learning, will Snow Days become a thing of the past?)

Small but Mighty: Why Earth’s Tiny Creatures Matter 
by Kendra Brown; illus. by Catarina Oliveira 
32 pages; ages 7-10
‎Owlkids, 2021

Lions and whales and grizzlies get a lot of press. Just look at all the books about these magnificent, large beasts. But here’s the thing: some of the smallest animals on our planet make the biggest impacts. Bees, ants, flies, and krill (featured last week) play important roles in their environments. They are involved in so many different jobs, from pollinating to decomposing to being the base of the ocean’s food web. You might not pay them much attention, but without them other, larger species can’t survive.

What I like about this book: Twelve species are featured, each with their own spread that includes a photo. There’s also an illustration showing their actual size in a way that kids can easily relate to: the size of a pencil eraser, a dinner plate, a grain of sand. The last spread shows the important role kids (relatively small animals) can play in keeping our planet a safe place for small things. And there’s a glossary for words that might be unfamiliar to younger readers.

The Book of Math, Adventures in the world of shapes and numbers
by Anna Weltman; illus. by Paul Boston
96 pages; ages 7-up
Kane Miller Books, 2021

This browsable book contains stories of famous mathematicians, introduces a plant that can count, includes secret codes, and presents some cool math tricks. Those are exactly the sorts of things I would have loved learning as a kid (instead of flash cards and long division). I am positive that, had my math teacher even suggested that plants and ants can count, I would have been intrigued enough to learn more. And if they’d shown the secret spirals in nature and secret codes, I would have been hooked.

What I like about this book: I like the graphics, including charts, graphs, and timelines. I like the way you can just drop in anywhere and explore some aspect of math. And I like the games, puzzles, things to try, and things to make.

If you are looking for math resources for younger children, check out the Storytelling Math series in this GROG blog post. Another wonderful math resource is Bedtime Math, where kids can find their daily math fix.

Thanks for dropping by today. On Monday we'll be hanging out at Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with other  bloggers. It's over at Greg Pattridge's blog, Always in the Middle, so hop over to see what other people are reading. Review copies provided by the publishers.

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Explore Outdoors ~ noticing texture



A month ago, I found these leaves poking out from a stone wall. I was taken with the juxtaposition of hairy leaves against snow crystals. And there, off to the right, some soft moss...

What textures do you notice around your yard and neighborhood? Check out bark of different trees, old leaves and petals, moss and lichens. Write a list of texture words. My list looks like this: hairy, cushiony (moss), sharp and crystalline (ice).

Monday, February 7, 2022

I have Birds on my Brain

 We've got some feeders hanging from the lilac tree outside the kitchen window. Every morning I watch the chickadees and juncos, blue jays and woodpeckers ~  red-bellied, hairy, downy ~ feast upon sunflower seeds and suet. The juncos gather on the mess of intertwined lilac and forsythia twigs, a safe place to wait for the open spot at the feeder. The blue jays wait for no one. And the red-bellied woodpecker has discovered a stout limb below the suet where he can perch and peck away at his heart's content.

Though I've watched birds for many years, this will be the first time I officially count them for the Great Backyard Bird Count. 

 You might be wondering: hey, Sue, you count pollinators every summer - so why have you been ignoring the birds? Well, the truth is that a number of years ago a bear took down our feeder. After this happened a few times, we sort of gave up. But this year we decided to try again, because we really miss watching our feathery neighbors. And now the birds have told their friends where the buffet is and we anticipate seeing a good number.

Not only that, the Great Backyard Bird Count sounds like fun. All I need to do is: 

  • watch birds for 15 minutes or more at least once over the President's Birthday long weekend. That's next week, Friday, Feb. 18 - Monday, Feb, 21.
  • count all the birds I see or hear during those observation times
  • report them using one of the tools listed on the GBBC website.

Since I've got the Merlin app on my phone, I'll probably use that. But you don't need a smartphone - you can jot down your observations in a notebook and report them using a computer. In fact, you don't need much of anything except a bird guide and some warm clothes. Binoculars are great, but if you don't have them, rely on your eyes and ears. You don't even need a backyard. You can count birds on your balcony, at a park, at the bus stop, at the school yard, or anywhere you are. Heck! You can sit at your kitchen table where it's toasty warm, and count birds while you enjoy your cup of coffee.

I'm planning to go outside, though. Partly because I want to listen to the birds and partly because I need to rack up some #1000hoursoutside time. And who knows, maybe I'll head down the road and check for birds hanging out by the creek. 

The real reason I want to participate is that I know the data we collect will help scientists learn more about where birds are wintering here in the northern hemisphere, and summering in the southern hemisphere. Yup, it's a global event. Find out more at

Friday, February 4, 2022

Krill: mmm-mmm good!

Good Eating: The Short Life of Krill 
by Matt Lilley; illus. by Dan Tavis 
36 pages; ages 6-8
Tilbury House Publishers, 2022

theme: nature, ocean, food chain

Hey, egg. What are you doing?

The egg, it turns out, is sinking. Down, down … and then it hatches into a weird six-armed larva that begins to swim up, up, up. Over time, this larva goes through changes, developing eyes, a mouth, and an appetite for small things. Really small things – plankton! From here on out it’s an eat-grow-swim world for the krill … until something big and hungry comes along. 

What I like about this book: I like how the book is written as a conversation with a krill. Author Matt Lilley asks krill questions throughout. At the beginning: how can you do all this growing and changing without eating anything? I like how he warns them about predators. “Watch out! Penguins!” And the cheesy jokes: how many is a million million?  A  krillion!

There is back matter- more information about how krill are part of the ocean food web, and more krill facts. Did you know that krill can create their own light, like fireflies? Even the krill-covered end pages are fun.

I was intrigued by the voice in this book, so I asked Matt One Question 

Me: How did you decide to address the book to the krill? You begin with "Hey, egg." And throughout you give them warnings about penguins and other predators.

Matt: The first draft of Good Eating was in the third person, but it didn't feel right to me. It felt like the audience would be too distant from the subject of the story. As soon as I changed it to second-person/"you", it felt right. I think addressing it to "you" makes the reader feel closer to the story. The narrator is addressing the krill as "you," but it also feels like the narrator is talking directly to the reader. It's a way of inviting the reader to imagine life through the eyes of that one krill.

Beyond the Books:

A single Antarctic krill can grow to be as long as your pinky (about 6 cm) and weigh up to 1 gram. A penny (US) weighs 2.5 grams. So how many krill is 10 pennies worth?

Play a round or two of Krill Smackdown. In this game you try to move your swarm of krill while collecting krill eggs and avoiding predators. Here's the link.

Learn more about Krill at the Antarctic. You can watch a "cool" video here

Matt is a member of #STEAMTeam2022. You can find out more about him at his website.

Today we're joining Perfect Picture Book Friday, an event where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review copy provided by Myrick Marketing & Media

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Explore Outdoors ~ Springtails in the Tracks


A couple weeks ago I went out snowshoeing. It was a warm day for January – with temperatures all the way into the high 30’s (Fahrenheit). As I tromped along the road between hayfields, I noticed black specks sprinkled around tracks like pepper. They weren’t pepper flakes. They were tiny arthropods called springtails, or snow fleas.

So what were they doing in the tracks? Springtails live in the top layer of the soil, right under the snow. They spend their winter nibbling on fungi and decaying leaves, and on warm days they catapult themselves up, up, up to the surface. As winter turns to spring, these tiny springtails become spider snacks. You can watch a cool video about them here.

On warm days this month, look for a sprinkling of springtails on the snow around trees in your neighborhood. If you have a magnifying lens, take a close look. They won’t leap too far away.